#Mauritania Headlines 29 May 2012

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A quick round up of news and opinion from Mauritania:

  • Fuel prices have been increased for the fifth time this year.
  • Residents of three villages near Kaédi  will be marking this as the date it was announced they will be getting electrical power after waiting more than 50 years.
  • Russia’s envoy for African affairs, Mikhail Margelov, has expressed concern that Azawad’s bid for independence creates security concerns for Niger and Mauritania. He is dead right there, but Nigeria and Mauritania governments are no doubt well aware of this. More interesting would be to discover what is it they have been promised that persuaded them to comply with this scheme?
  • Abu Hafs family issued a statement complaining that the former Al Qaeda visionary had been given all sorts of promises about being allowed freedom to be with his family – presumably as part of the deal which brought him home to Mauritania from Iran – and asking all concerned to honor their word, and to stop pressuring him to meet with “foreign delegations” despite his refusals.
  • Condemnation of manipulating student rights Once again students are complaining about unfair treatment and unnecessary delays in applications being processed, especially of concern is the situation of those studying abroad.
  • Mauritania police to resume previous traffic control role The Army will be deployed to the increased border security checkpoints with Mali (and presumably, Senegal, where tensions are mounting due to the Aziz  administration’s heavy-handed treatment of Senegalese nationals. and..
  • This recent renewed talk about an Arab Maghreb Union is eyewash says this op-ed. What about Western Sahara, the Amazigh, the Tuareg, “Azawad”?
  • Palestinians are demanding Ould Abdel Aziz to expel their ambassador in Nouakchott after he refused to meet them because they are “Gazans”
  • The signing of six agreements for cooperation between Mauritania and Gambia on education, culture, oil, energy, air transport and tourism was a prelude to Aziz and his Gambian counterpart – both former military men who ousted their respective governments and went on to be elected — calling for a return to constitutional order in Mali and Guinea-Bissau.
  • Questions directed to the opposition Op-ed, basically asking how they keep managing to switch horses mid-stream without getting the hem of their dara’a wet
  • Aziz vows not to harass Chinguetti TV channel It’s been a year and this Egypt-based independent Mauritanian channel has still not been granted a licence, so maybe Aziz means he’s not going to harass them “any more than usual”. Fact is, he has prior issues with the major investor, a businessman. Some like to imply it’s because Aziz was told Chinguetti TV is supported by “Islamists” – but that is to be expected.
  • Unemployed graduates return to storm the Ministry of Employment this is the group that stormed the grounds of the presidential palace and were eventually arrested, then later freed. Disappointing part: no attempt to align themselves with other protest movements or indeed, the many thousands of other unemployed people in the country.
  • Democratic Party meeting in Nouakchott remarked on the Doha fire of Monday 28 May 2012 and sent condolences to the victims
  • Differences within COD opposition alleged. We get a lot of these rumours. Many hands stirring that pot.
  • Background gossip surrounds the dismissal of Supreme Court Chief Justice Ghilani Bottom line is he and Aziz are very much alike – authoritarian and dictatorial - which worked out fine for a while but now the honeymoon is well and truly over. Aziz appointed a rookie to replace the Chief Justice, who took office Monday 28 May. Tuesday saw the former Commissioner of Human Rights, illegally detained for 9 or 10 months now, finally appear in court on charges of corruption. The accountant for the HR commission resigned last month. Other legal tangles include the impending trial (or not) of Abdulah Senussi, the former head of Libyan Intelligence under Gaddafi, currently evading an international arrest warrant from the ICC, and another from France, by dint of being held in Mauritania on charges of entering the country illegally. All very Mrs Bin Laden. Closer to home, Libya’s NTC is saying that their relationship with Mauritania relies on the outcome of the Senussi case. The other key case is that of anti-slavery campaigner Biram Ould Obeid, illegally detained after causing massive and embarassing controversy after almost a month, along with 10 supporters. His wife Leyla was among weekend protesters in Nouakchott demanding Biram’s release. She got injured in the face (I read somewhere it was a tear gas grenade) for her trouble and wound up in the Emergency Room.
  • Women from poorer neighbourhoods of the economic capital, Nouadhibou, protested Monday 28 May about the dire lack of facilities, incuding provision of water, electricity, education and shops.
  • Nouakchott University expelled the head of the Student Union in response to ongoing student protests, and he retaliated by making a very loud, very public announcement in which he catalogued their many issues and failures. As he put it – he displayed their dirty laundry on the street.
  • Activists @medabdou and @bhourma from Mauritania joined Egypt’s onTV channel by Skype (a technical triumph considering their poor internet reliability) for a live discussion on Monday 28 May. Video here.
  • The onTV invite came in the wake of an item about Mauritania’s “overlooked” Arab Spring in the Guardian, written by the same guy from Arab Media Watch who was in Press TV’s discussion last week, Sharif Nashashibi. As is so often the case, the comments are far more interesting and revealing than the blog post. It did put me in mind of Al Jazeera’s token piece “Mauritania’s overlooked uprising – what happened to the Feb 25 Movement?” from January 28th.
  • Note: Most links are to Arabic sources

Al-Qaeda’s deputy chief in Afghanistan, a Saudi, reportedly killed

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Kabul: Al Qaeda’s second in command in Afghanistan and one other unnamed militant had been killed in an air strike near the Pakistani border, NATO said on Tuesday 29 May 2012.

According to media reports quoting International Security Assistance Force (ISAF),Saudi-born Sakhr al-Taifi, also known as Mushtaq and Nasim, commanded foreign fighters and directed attacks on NATO and Afghan troops.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) described him as al Qaeda’s “second highest leader in Afghanistan”, saying he frequently travelled between Afghanistan and Pakistan, “carrying out commands from senior al Qaeda leadership”.

News Tribe

War: Lies and Consequences

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WAR

WAR (Photo credit: WeMeantDemocracy)

They tell lies, to excuse wars that are in any case against all conventions and constitutions. Then we call them out on their lies, but we get punished or silenced or ignored or fed new lies while the war mechanics do all in their power keep their machinery going. But where does their power come from? They represents us. We need a new system, a way to monitor use of our delegated power to prevent abuse of our mandate.

From war we have acquired taxes and debt.  Expenses on war and war preparation in the United States are now over half of federal discretionary spending, more than all other nations of the world combined, and more than at any time during the Cold War.  Military spending increases, not with the need for military defense, but with the level of corruption in U.S. elections.

Decreasing in proportion to the rise in military spending are our civil liberties; our representative government; the balance of powers within the government; resistance to policies of warrantless spying, imprisonment without charge, torture, and assassination; and the health of our news media.  The war machine has become the greatest destroyer of the natural environment we have.  And the shifting of funding from all other areas to the military has had disastrous results in as many fields as we might choose to name.

via OP-ED: Lies and Consequences in Our Past 15 Wars | Huntington News.


BY DAVID SWANSON

David Swanson

David Swanson

Kings had always been involving and impoverishing their peoples in wars, pretending generally, if not always, that the good of the people was their object.  This, our Convention understood to be the most oppressive of all Kingly oppressions; and they resolved to so frame the Constitution that no one man should hold the power of bringing this oppression upon us.”–Abraham Lincoln

AFGHANISTAN

Prior to 2001, the Taliban was willing to turn Osama bin Laden over to a third country if he was promised a fair trial and no death penalty, and if some evidence of his guilt of crimes were offered.  In 2001, the Taliban warned the United States that bin Laden was planning an attack on American soil.  In July 2001 the United States was known to have plans to take military action against the Taliban by mid-October.

When the United States attacked Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, the Taliban again offered to negotiate for the handing over of bin Laden. When President George W. Bush refused, the Taliban dropped its demand for evidence of guilt and offered simply to turn bin Laden over to a third country.  Bush rejected this offer and continued bombing.  At a March 13, 2002, press conference, Bush said of bin Laden “I truly am not that concerned about him.”[i] When President Barack Obama announced, in May 2011, that he had killed bin Laden, the war didn’t even slow down.

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West African “Terror Threat”: After Decades, Anarchy Hasn’t Arrived

2009 travel advisory raised the threat in and around Mali's oft-quoted oasis town of Timbuktu to "high" Photo: REUTERS
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While riddled with weak states, West Africa has not become the international terrorist playground some feared it would. That does not mean warnings about extremists should be overlooked however.

By Charlie Warren for ISN Security Watch


In 1994, journalist Robert Kaplan wrote a controversial Atlantic article, “The Coming Anarchy,” warning of West Africa’s ungoverned spaces, disease-ridden slums, weak borders, and impoverished masses. Kaplan declared that “we ignore this dying region at our own risk.” In 2004, Douglas Farah and Richard Shultz published a Washington Post op-ed that picked up the argument where Kaplan had left off. West Africa had become a terrorist sanctuary. Three years after the 9/11 attacks, the authors proclaimed, “weak and corrupt governments, vast, virtually stateless stretches awash in weapons, and impoverished, largely Muslim populations make the region an ideal sanctuary…The now-identifiable presence of al Qaeda in other countries shows that these once-marginal wars and regions matter. We ignore the warnings at our peril.”

2009 travel advisory raised the threat in and around Mali’s oft-quoted oasis town of Timbuktu to “high” Photo: REUTERS

History has not borne out this “coming anarchy” of terrorism, and West Africa is not rife with international extremism. Alas, the region is not beyond terrorism’s grasp either. This means several longstanding arguments about extremism in West Africa need to be carefully revisited.

Global extremism versus local grievances

Conventional wisdom separates transnational, Salafist-inspired terrorists from local, politically marginal insurgents. However, the available evidence in West Africa suggests one ought to view things differently. Even the most well connected Al-Qaeda affiliate in the Sahel and West Africa, Al Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM), has a variety of influences. AQIM’s predecessor, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, wanted to depose the Algerian government. The group officially aligned itself with Osama bin Laden in 2006 and changed its name to AQIM in 2007.

Boko Haram, a Nigerian insurrection founded by Mohammed Yusuf in 2002, has even more opaque influences. The group’s actual name provides one such example.Boko Haram is Hausa for ‘Western education is sinful,’ yet the group’s members seldom, if ever, use it. Adherents instead prefer Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad(‘People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad’)—hardly a name conducive to the pithy labels preferred by governments or journalists alike. Northern Nigeria has also witnessed extremism in the recent past, so Boko Haram’s emergence is not groundbreaking either. During the early 1980s, millenarian uprisings led by Alhaji Muhammadu Marwa (also known as “Maitatsine”) left over four thousand people dead and included some similarities to Boko Haram’s rhetoric related to wealth, Western education, and the alleged graft of other northern Nigerian Muslims. Not unlike Boko Haram, Maitatsine’s revolts appealed to the young, disenfranchised northern Nigerians in cities like Kano, Kaduna, and Gombe. Thirty years after those uprisings, Boko Haram has played upon distinctly local concerns—including corruption, political isolation, and northern Nigeria’s relative poverty—with alarming success. While Boko Haram’s aims may be unique and ever evolving, its regional and religious contexts are not.

Since 2011, however, Boko Haram’s members have acquired some international practices: they recruit and deploy suicide bombers; they successfully bombed UN headquarters in Abuja; they carry out other mass casualty attacks; and they are alleged to have met with, and perhaps trained under, AQIM.

Analysts have spent a great deal of time attempting to draw the line between ‘Boko Haram the local insurrection’ and ‘Boko Haram the global extremist group.’ Splinters of Boko Haram may have contacted other terrorist organizations in an effort to engage in training, but it’s difficult to trace individual actions to truly coherent international ambitions. Worse still, it’s a distraction. Boko Haram is better understood as a diffuse group, ill-suited to international terrorist labels, including the US designation as an official Foreign Terrorist Organization . The false dichotomy surrounding Boko Haram not only narrows our definition of the violent extremist sect, but it also constrains our ability to find measured, evidence-based solutions.

Think-tanks label al-Shabab a “terror threat” but they are doggedly domestic. Photograph: Feisal Omar/Reuters

Borders and illicit Flows

At least four cross-border flows facilitate terrorism in the region. Weapons of varying types pervade West Africa, making the tools of violent extremism readily available. Semtex explosives can be purchased, and Nigerien authorities recently seized 1,420 pounds of the material and 445 detonators. As many as 15,000 of Muammar Gaddhafi’s stock of man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS) are unaccounted for; some speculate that AQIM possesses stockpiles. Although MANPADS have brought down at least eight passenger planes in Africa, small arms have led to far more casualties. Perhaps millions of Kalashnikovs flooded gun markets following the Cold War, and Boko Haram has become yet another group to use them during its hundreds of deadly attacks since 2010.

Illicit transfers of money via remittances and cash happen, and there is little capacity to monitor all transactions in largely unbanked countries. With mobile money transfers, cell phones could also send and receive illicit funds, but the services are not yetwidespread.

West Africa’s drug smuggling routes provide opportunities for terrorist organizations to generate revenues. At least fifty tons of cocaine (worth $2 billion in Europe) travels through West Africa per year, with over one ton heading through the ‘narco-state’ of Guinea-Bissau every night. Colombia’s FARC and AQIM already traffic drugs across the Sahel and into Europe.

People also move across borders. Militants have fled Libya for the Sahel in large numbers. Kidnapping has proven to be a lucrative funding stream for AQIM, and they have made a business of capturing Westerners. AQIM has fetched ransoms as high as $6 million in one instance and acquired tens of millions of dollars in kidnapping fees since 2006.

Although weak borders may aid terrorists, two distinctions are essential. Smuggling and banditry are hardly new to the region: for years illegal goods have traveled over the Nigeria-Cameroon border and similar flows cross the Nigeria-Benin border. International boundaries are not completely leaky either. West African states may not exercise a uniform rule of law along their boundaries, but they do have an intricate web of roadblocks, some physical and others more bureaucratic. Analysts should not overstate Africa’s porous boundaries.

Political instability and terrorism

West Africa’s poverty and crime have preoccupied policymakers concerned with terrorism, but few have examined the role of political instability. The relationships between terrorism and a more common scourge in the region—electoral violence—are not well known. However, one can reason that prolonged election conflicts could create space for terrorist groups in more stable countries or, at the very least, distract politicians and security services. Nigeria’s tragic post-election violence of April 2011 provides one possible example. The strife thankfully stopped short of prolonged conflict, but it did sidetrack diplomatic approaches to handling Boko Haram.

Although scholars have not tested the relationship between electoral strife and terrorism, coups d’état and terrorism may have some connections. Recent anecdotal evidence from Mali and Guinea-Bissau suggest that coups can help terrorists. Mali’s March 22 overthrow of President Amadou Toumani Touré’s government was not a one-off event but rather the culmination of a northern Tuareg rebellion. (The coup’s leader, Capt. Amadou Haya Sanogo, received military training in the United States.) Evolving power struggles among the FLNA, MNLA, Ansar Eddine, AQIM, and MUJWA make Mali’s future uncertain. Moreover, the coup set back counterterrorism efforts in the country, not to mention precipitated a democracy and human rights rollback. AQIM may have more control than ever before.

Meanwhile, Guinea-Bissau’s April 12 coup has worsened the security situation and diverted attention away from efforts to stem a growing drug trade. (In almost 40 years since independence, no president of Guinea-Bissau has finished a continuous term in office.) While it is difficult to predict the country’s future, its counternarcotics efforts show no signs of improvement in the near term.

However, if one overemphasizes the impact of recent government overthrows in West Africa, one ignores an important trend. Coups have declined steadily for decades. According to the Center for Systemic Peace’s dataset, there were twelve successful coups in West Africa from 1980 to 1990, ten from 1990 to 2000, and six from 2000 to 2010. Africa’s civil wars are also declining, and the region is not predisposed to conflict.

Efforts to combat terrorism in West Africa

Many analysts perpetuate the image of West Africa as a blank slate for counterterrorism experiments. Yet efforts have been ongoing for decades, and international, regional, and local frameworks already exist. UN Security Council Resolution 1373 (2001) established the Counter-Terrorism Committee (CTC) in an effort to stop terrorism in all of its forms. UN Security Council Resolution 1624 (2005) is designed to improve border security and encourage member countries to submit updates to the CTC. Unfortunately, West African countries provided irregular reports to CTC and even fewer reports per UNSCR 1624.

Other policies to stop terrorism predate the UN resolutions but have proven equally ineffective. The Organization of African Unity (OAU) first addressed terrorism in its 1992 Dakar declaration, and its 1999 Algiers agreement determined to “eliminate terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.” Regional groups include the West African Police Chiefs Corporation, the African Centre for the Study and Research on Terrorism, and ECOWAS’ Inter-Governmental Action Group Against Money Laundering in West Africa as well as its Committee of Chiefs of Security Service. Numerous challenges confront counterterrorism teams in West Africa, ranging from poor coordination among different bureaucracies, to limited access to INTERPOL records, to regional language barriers, to the failure to incorporate international terrorist financing regulations into local laws.

Understandably, many countries have volunteered to train West Africa’s police and security services. The US-led Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership (TSCTP) provides military assistance while the African Union’s Defense and Security Division undertakes some technical evaluations; special forces from Canada and other countries [AH: Libya, France,  Spain] have trained Malian security services in the past.

Although developing capacity among local forces may be necessary, many West Africa security services have human rights records ranging from inconsistent to abysmal. In some egregious cases of extra-judicial violence, security services’ brutality may anger the same extremists that they seek to stop. More broadly, international support creates what one analyst described presciently in 2004 as “rent seeking” for counterterrorism funding: Countries depict themselves as victims of transnational extremism—not local terrorism—with the hope of receiving increased aid flows in return. When the Nigerian government depicts Boko Haram as an ‘international‘ terrorist organization in letters to foreign governments, it really seeks security aid and counterterrorism funding.

Despite reasonable evidence to the contrary—terrorist groups have diverse influences, weak borders are never totally porous, political instability may influence terrorism in complex ways, and security solutions can backfire—elements of Kaplan’s argument persist. In March 2012, New York Times Africa correspondent Jeffrey Gettleman wrote a book review entitled “Africa’s Dirty Wars.” Gettleman described most African rebels as “thugs” but positioned Boko Haram as a global threat. He further cautioned that “some of the most organized, disciplined, and ideologically sophisticated rebels are the Islamist extremists.” However, after decades of similar warnings, the “coming anarchy” of international terrorism has yet to arrive in West Africa. There is good reason to believe that it never will.

Army: AQAP driven from South #Yemen towns

Boys watch an army tank on a street in the southern Yemeni town of Lawdar
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Video: Mosaic Middle East News Summary 16 May 2012

Covers Yemen, Palestine, Israel, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Bahrain Sudan

Yemen Post Staff report from Wednesday, 16 May 2012

A security official told the government-run 26 September website that the army troops assisted by tribal militias managed to kick out the terrorists from three towns in the southern Yemeni province of Abyan.

He said the army troops and the tribal fighters expelled al-Qaeda militants from Lawdar, Modia, and al-Wadea after two days of fierce clashes.

The unnamed official pointed out that the militants fled to mountainous areas after they lost great number of their fighters and weapons.”In the couple of past days, approximately 60 militants have been killed. Also some army troops and tribal men were killed in the clashes,” the official said.

He noted that the army troops are currently chasing the terrorists in order to arrest them and force them to stand trial for their crimes, calling on the al-Qaeda militants to turn themselves in willingly to the authorities.

According to the official, all Modia inhabitants showed their support for the tribal militias and the troops.

For his part, Abyan governor hailed the progress in the battle against the terror organization affiliates, saying the troops and the tribal militias showcased fantastic bravery and determination to eradicate the terrorists.

The governor said eradicating the rest of the militants is a national duty and stressed that a great number of the militants were killed.

Meanwhile, the US administration said that the fighting against al-Qaeda gained momentum after the former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh left office in November 2011.

Also on Wednesday, 16 May 2012, Reuters reported heavy fighting as the Yemen army advanced on militants in the  south

Yemeni troops, backed by local tribesmen, captured a strategic mountain that controls access to cities long held by al Qaeda-linked militants amid heavy fighting that has killed at least 24 people, residents and local officials said.

The fighting is part of an army offensive against Ansar al-Sharia, a militant group that has seized swathes of territory in Yemen’s south during a year of political upheaval that toppled President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Saeed al-Dhailie, a spokesman for a committee set up to mobilize residents against Ansar al-Sharia in Lawdar, said local fighters had managed to capture the Yasouf mountain, a strategic vantage point above the city, after heavy fighting.

“This morning the army, assisted by armed tribesmen from Lawdar, succeeded in driving al Qaeda militants off Yasouf mountain,” Dhailie told Reuters.

“Aerial and artillery attacks by the army started after the dawn prayer. Then we moved up the mountain, official forces and tribesmen side by side. By 11 a.m. we had driven al Qaeda away and recaptured the mountain,” he said.

Dhailie said the militants were using Soviet-era heavy machineguns known as Duskas and heavy artillery looted from army camps they had raided in recent months.

“It’s bloody. Al Qaeda are fighting to the death,” he said.

Local officials and residents said 16 militants were killed in fresh clashes outside Lawdar, including a local commander of Ansar al-Sharia known as Samir Salem al-Moqayda. Ansar al-Sharia has been trying to capture Lawdar for weeks, without success.

They said eight Yemeni troops and members of the popular committees have also died in the fighting and five more were wounded.

The United States and Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporters, have been alarmed by the growing strength of the militants near shipping lanes in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea.

Yemen’s interior ministry said security services in Taiz had received information that 20 members of Ansar al-Sharia were present in the province, which until now has seen no militant activity.

“The security apparatus in the province of Taiz has discovered the presence of 20 militants from Ansar al-Sharia in the Mawiyah district. Security is working to pursue these elements and arrest them,” the ministry said on its website.

The United States has stepped up air strikes against suspected members of al Qaeda’s Yemen-based wing since President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi was elected in February after months of protests that pushed the country to the brink of civil war.

Military sources said troops were also closing in on the militant stronghold of Jaar and the Abyan provincial capital of Zinjibar. Residents of Jaar said dozens of families were fleeing the town in anticipation of further violence as the army drew nearer.

The Yemeni delegation of the Red Cross urged all sides to protect non-combatants, expressing concern at reports civilian areas had been targeted. Six civilians were killed in a Yemeni air force strike on Tuesday.